The potential benefits of health-related quality of life (HRQL) assessment in oncology clinical practice include better detection of problems, enhanced disease and treatment monitoring and improved care. However, few empirical studies have investigated the effects of incorporating such assessments into routine clinical care. Recent randomized studies have reported improved detection of and communication about patients' concerns, but few have found effects on patient HRQL or satisfaction. This study examined whether offering interpretive assistance of HRQL results would improve these patient outcomes. Two hundred and thirteen participants with metastatic breast, lung or colorectal cancer were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: usual care; HRQL assessment or HRQL assessment followed by a structured interview and discussion. Interviews about patients' assessment responses were conducted by a research nurse, who then presented HRQL information to the treating nurse. HRQL and treatment satisfaction outcomes were assessed at 3 and 6 months. No significant differences were found between study conditions in HRQL or satisfaction. Results suggest that routine HRQL assessment, even with description of results, is insufficient to improve patient HRQL and satisfaction. It is suggested that positive effects may require supplementing assessment results with specific suggestions for clinical management changes. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.